This wouldn’t be a book for everybody—and that would be a shame. Massey has done a lot of research about India’s first female lawyer, Cornelia Sorabji, a Parsi called to the Bar in London, who also wrote novels of women’s experience. She has not based her heroine, the attorney Perveen Mistry, on Sorabji’s life (Perveen read Law in Oxford), but used it as the foundation of a crime novel set in 1920s Bombay, and writes her historical fiction from a contemporary angle. I cannot think of a novel published in India that has as much sociological nous as this one. For one thing, it includes a serious case of venereal disease caught from the heroine’s husband. For another, it has some stomach-churning descriptions of what happened to women when they were menstruating. For a third, it’s hard to imagine a woman lawyer managing to help a house full of purdah ladies after the death of their husband and making a good job of it. Perveen has high social status, good connections, and a supportive family—so it’s not all the horrors of women’s helplessness. She’s obviously a character who’s going to be part of a series—and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey, Soho Crime